Longleat Safari Park: Gorilla Nico dies aged 56

Nico Image copyright Longleat Safari Park
Image caption Nico died in his sleep on 7 January

One of the world's oldest silverback gorillas has died at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire.

Nico, 56, died in his sleep on 7 January and staff at the park say they are "truly saddened".

A spokesman said: "It is with deep regret and huge sadness that we have to announce the death of Nico, our much-loved western lowland gorilla."

Longleat's senior warden, Ian Turner, collected Nico, a western lowland gorilla, from Switzerland in 1989.

"My first memory was having a cup of tea with him," he said, explaining that it is important to build up a relationship with gorillas to gain their trust.

Watched TV

When Nico arrived in England he had to be quarantined in his enclosure for six months. During that time he displayed signs of boredom, so his keepers gave him a television to keep him entertained.

When they tried to take the television away, Mr Turner said "all hell broke loose," so it was swiftly returned.

Nico kept the television for the rest of his life and particularly enjoyed watching nature documentaries, Mr Turner said..

TV company Sky even tried to make Nico a bespoke remote control, but it turned out not to be "gorilla-proof".

Image copyright Longleat Safari Park
Image caption Nico had a reputation for looking grumpy but his expression signified contentment, his keepers said

'Astonishing' age

Nico's partner, Samba, died 10 years ago and Mr Turner said the silverback was "sad when she went".

However, the pair had a "brother and sister relationship" and never bred.

After Samba's death, Nico lived alone at the park, which is natural behaviour for adult male gorillas in the wild.

Longleat said that attempting to mix him again would have been like putting a "granddad with boisterous teenagers".

Image copyright Craig Hobbs Photography
Image caption Silverback gorillas in the wild are used to being on their own

Gorillas usually live between 30 and 40 years in the wild and Longleat said it was "quite astonishing" for Nico, who weighed about 170kgs and was 5'10 tall, to reach the age of 56.

But he was "slowing down" and his keepers noticed something was wrong when he gradually stopped eating as much as usual.

"It had been a rough winter for him," said Mr Turner.

He said losing Nico was like "losing a member of the family".

On his 56th birthday last July, Nico's keepers gave him a cake made from bananas and courgettes with carrot candles.

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